The young teenage mind is a mystery that has confounded parents for generations. It used to be that a teenage youth’s number one priority was to be part of the crowd and part of the community. Now, its money and that four-letter word, fame. But the need to be seen may be detrimental to young people.

Social media use by teens may be disconnecting them. In 2001, Gallup took a poll and every average American said they had 10 really close friends. The same poll in 2013 said they had two.

Where did everybody go? I think we know where. The next time you’re at lunch, just look around the restaurant and see how many people’s faces are buried in their phones. The message that someone who is always checking their social media updates sends is that there is someone on the other side of their phone who is more important than the person sitting across from them.

There is a study by Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers that says that we touch or check our phones 150 times a day. We also upload 1.8 billion pictures to Facebook a day. That is a little over a sixth of the population.

Social Media use is definitely distracting young students. According to the Pew Research Centre, 81% of teenagers are social media users. A study by Midde Tennesse State University asked students to look at a video on a computer. Some students were able to access social media tabs on their computer. Students who were tested on the contents of the video that had access to social media did worse on the exam. The survey results suggested that use of social media during professional or school times could lead to negative results.

The same observation could be made for students who are studying or doing homework at home. Doing research online also leaves access to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram. Young people are finding it difficult to avoid the distractions rife on social media. One potential solution to this is to allow a distraction free online learning experience that doesn’t allow access to social media tabs – an idea that is being planned by Zeolearn through their technology courses.

Besides being a distraction from homework or studying, peer pressure and the inability for young people to self-regulate their behavior makes them vulnerable to cyberbullying, Facebook related depression, and sexting. These are very real dangers that need to be addressed.

The Centre for Collegiate Mental Health found that the top three diagnoses on university campuses are anxiety, depression and stress. A University of Pittsburg School of Medicine study linked high social media use to high levels of depression.   

“Because social media has become such an integrated component of human interaction, it is important for clinicians interacting with young adults to recognize the balance to be struck in encouraging potential positive use, while redirecting from problematic use,” said Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health.

The need to strike a balance between the positive and negative aspects of social media will be essential for parents and educators to undertake. The same social media exposure that might increase depression and anxiety could be used to combat it.

When someone searches on Tumblr with keywords that may indicate a mental health issue such as “suicidal” or “depression,” they will be let to a message that asks “Everything OK?” They will also be given helpful links to other resources.

Facebook also provides resources for users who may be suicidal. Friends can anonymously report posts that seem troubling. The posters would then get a concerned message which would encourage them to talk to a friend or a helpline.  

Social media use in young people does have some benefits. It does increase their communication and technical skills. Whatever job these students will take after graduation, knowledge of social media management and analytics will be useful in their upcoming positions.

Social media platforms offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bites of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold. Many social media companies hire what’s called attention engineers.

They borrow principles from Las Vegas casino gambling to try and make these products as addictive as possible. That is the desired use case of these products. That you use in an addictive fashion so it maximizes profit that can be extracted from your attention and data.

Social media effects on young people have positive and negative elements. It allows them communication and technological savvy. But social media also brings with it multiple, well-documented and significant dangers.

We have to confront these benefits and dangers head-on when trying to make decisions on whether or not we embrace this technology and allow it into our lives.